Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 speaker system currently sits at the top of the company's stylish 'Expressionist' line, which also includes the Expressionist Classic, Expressionist Bass and Expressionist Plus. Of the four models, the Ultra is the only one of the bunch that Altec designates primarily as a 'gaming' PC-speaker set on its Web site. The Ultra earns that designation for being a brawny, 2.1-channel system that features a 6.5-inch, front-firing subwoofer and 200W of sound. It's available online for around £180.
Adhering to the established Expressionist aesthetic, the Ultra has a modern look. The subwoofer (measuring 130 by 401 by 259mm) is shaped like a flat-topped pyramid, and the cylindrical satellite speakers are set into translucent stands. The satellites sport 3-inch mid-range drivers and 1-inch neodymium tweeters.
The two satellite speakers connect directly to the subwoofer, along with a separate desktop controller that lets you turn the system on and off, as well as adjust the volume, bass and treble levels. If there's a shortcoming to the system, it's that the speaker cords are rather on the short side, and they use a proprietary connector, so you can't go and buy extension cords. As a result, you don't have a great deal of flexibility as to where to place the speakers. If you're someone who expects to stick the subwoofer under a desk or table and have the satellites on either side of your monitor, however, the Ultra will work fine for you.
As for the controller, it has a premium look and feel to it. While it took some fiddling to get used to the control mechanism, we got the hang of it after a few minutes and were able to set the bass and treble levels to our liking.
Integrated into the controller, you'll find a 3.5mm auxiliary input for connecting other devices, such as an MP3 player, DVD player or TV, along with a 3.5mm headphone input. The sub also has a 3.5mm input -- that's where most folks will plug in their PC -- so you're pretty well covered on the connectivity front. We appreciate that the Ultra ships with a cord for connecting your devices to the system. The cord has 3.5mm jacks at each end, but you also get an RCA adaptor for connecting TVs and game consoles via a set of basic red/white composite cables, which aren't included.
As for sound, the Ultra generally delivers on its promise of being a 'powerhouse'. Not only were we impressed with the big, relatively tight bass, but we also thought the system offered good clarity and was well-balanced overall. We listened to our usual assortment of test music, including songs by Elvis Costello, Dan Auerbach, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas, as well as some classical tracks, and came away feeling that the Ultra acquitted itself quite well.
The system's audio delivers a visceral punch when you're playing games and watching movies. You shouldn't expect the world from a £180 PC-speaker system, but, relatively speaking, the Ultra offers very good performance.
If you're concerned about the idea of placing a pretty beefy subwoofer in your room -- it's hard to conceal -- the Ultra probably isn't the system for you. Those who live in close proximity to others should also take note that the sub pumps out enough bass at high volume to rattle some walls and floors. For many, however, that will be an appealing trait.
If you're looking for an even more affordably priced, 2.1-channel PC-speaker system, you could step down to Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus or Logitech's Speaker System Z523. But, simply put, the Altec Lansing Expressionist Ultra MX6021 sounds better and offers significantly more oomph than those systems.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet